Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Legend that is Stan Webb

Perhaps the greatest of all historic London venues was the famed club on Eel Pie Island in the western, riverside-suburb of Twickenham. The bands that graced its tiny stage though the 60s read like a rock'n'roll hall of fame. The Stones, Who, Yardbirds, Genesis, Pink Floyd, are just a few of the greats who learned their craft at the Eel Pie.

Alas, the original club burned down, amidst the usual rumours that accompany such events. In 2002, a group of fans, headed by Gina Way and Warren Walters, decided that the name was just too iconic to lose; the Eel Pie Club was reborn. It is still in Twickenham,now upstairs in the Cabbage Patch pub, and dedicated to preserving those great musical traditions. It’s a marvellous place to see some half-forgotten legends, and even the odd celebrity slumming it!

Stan Webb, and version 567 of Chicken Shack, graced its stage this week. And one has to say that he, as expected, did not let the history down. I suspect that for many readers this is a name that will simply evoke a response of 'who'? Well, Stan Webb is not only a legend in his own lifetime, but his early recorded output deserves the accolade of 'hidden nuggets'. He's also a true rock'n'roll survivor.

Way back in the mid 60s, when British bands were first discovering the blues and riding the electric rhythm and blues wave, two very similar bands competed in friendly rivalry. Aspiring amongst those to be the top blues band were Fleetwood Mac and Stan Webb's Chicken Shack (version 1, with a certain Christine Perfect on vocals. Ms Perfect was to defect from the latter to the former, and to become Mrs John McVie). Mac, boasting the fabled Peter Green, turned away from the pure R&B sound and produced a number of classic hits like 'Albatross' and 'Man of the World'. As everyone knows, the ensuing soap opera that marked 45 years or so of Mac history included a move to LA, new band members, madness, religious cult conversions, splits, band changes, marriages, divorces, drug abuse and multi-million selling classics.

Meanwhile, on another planet... Stan Webb soldiered on, and on, and on. Mostly with ever-changing line-ups of Chicken Shack, but also having a spell with Savoy Brown. Thought by many to be at least as good a guitarist as Eric Clapton, real success (in terms of record sales) has eluded him. And stadium-sized performances have been few. But Stan’s fans are lucky; catching Webb at a small venue like the Eel Pie Club can be a real pleasure. Small enough to allow you to get up close and personal, I watched his fingers (and thumb!) dance at impossible speeds up and own the fret. He still retains a great voice and sustains high notes from the back of his throat like someone 40 years his junior. Delivering a couple of numbers in Elvis and Johnny Cash toning reminded me of an interview I once did with Stan where he ran through a range of vocal impersonation he could do. He did a great impression of the comedian Kenneth Williams from the ‘Carry on’ films! What’s nice too is the rapport he develops with the audience, helped by his unpretentious manner and dress.

So why didn’t he crack it? The only song he’s really remembered for is ‘I’d rather Go Blind’ which Chicken Shack (with Christine Perfect) took to No. 14 in the 1969 UK charts. Unlike the Fleetwoods, Stan and band didn’t really move on. They were one of the many excellently rocking progressive bands that got overtaken by punk and new wave. Pity really as Stan Webb could have been a contender for top-dog. Still, if you’re into R&B played stunningly well then you’ll go a long way before hearing anyone better.

And if you're in London, or thinking of visiting, you could do worse than get on the Eel Pie Club mail list; you never know who you might catch there.

Hidden Nuggets
Forty Blue Fingers Freshly Packed And Ready To Serve/ Blue Horizon 1969
OK Ken / Blue Horizon 1969

Chicken Shack’s I’d rather go blind’
Eel Pie Club

Monday, August 9, 2010

Britain-Brazilian Rock Connections

The ABC Trust (patron, one Jimmy Page), a charity existing to support Brazilian street kids, hosted an exclusive gig at the Embassy Club in London this evening. The sublime Bebel Gilberto previewed some of her new CD, delivering an acoustic set to about 90 lucky invited guests.

Not a name that you recognise? No? This Grammy-award nominated lady is the daughter of the famed João Gilberto and singer Miúcha. Her uncle is singer/composer Chico Buarque. Still no glimmer of recognition? Shame on you! But it is hardly surprising, though I'll bet Spanish, French and Italian readers of this blog will know the names. And it goes without saying that the Brazilians will! But we English-speaking Anglo-Saxons are very limited in our appreciation of any music where the lyrics are not sung in our familar tongue. OK, admittedly there's a limited appreciation of bossa nova and salsa but I'll lay short odds right now that Santana and the Buena Vista Social Club are about the only two Latin acts most can immediately call to mind. That we voluntarily cut ourselves off from the richness of other cultures is our loss, believe me.

It hasn't happened the other way though. No such cultural myopia in Brazil where local musicians have long looked to England for inspiration. Trawl through a 'sebo' in Rio (second-hand book and music shops) and you'll find stacks of 1960s and 70s UK vinyl gold as an indication of listening tastes. It's not just the popular chart stuff but real obscurities. Look at the gig list in Sao Paulo today and there are contemporary UK Indie bands filling the clubs. Scan the tracks of Brazilian superstars and wannabees alike are you'll find covers of Lennon & McCartney, Jagger and Richards, and many more recent songwriters.

Two names stands out as being conduits through which rock flowed into Rio; Gilberto Gil and Cateano Veloso. These two' fleeing Brazil's then military government, lived the lives of London-based exiles for three years in the early 70s. While here, they absorbed the musical landscape. Gil played and toured with some of the 70s greats. He in turn influenced British contemporaries. It came as little surprise, just a few years back, to see Eric Clapton in the audience for one of Gil's regular London returns.

Gil and Veloso lived in Chelsea, off the Kings Road, and in Nottinghill Gate. The property became a centre for artistic Brazilian exiles I read somewhere that Gil shared a flat with Terry Reid but inevitably, this being Bob Marley's territory and the 70s his time, it was reggae as well as rock that they took with them back to Brazil.

Look them up on Wiki. Gil became Minister of Culure under the populist President Lula.

Modern Brazilian rock albums show off these multi-cultural influences. Listen to Os Mutantes, the only non-English-language psychadelic album considered a classic by the critics. The influence of UK rock is there but tempered and twisted into a distinctly Brazilian feel with bossa and samba patterns often creeping in. One fine contemporary CD I heard the other day was by Rodrigo Santos. His skillful re-arrangments of standard Beatle numbers really freshen them up.

Anyway, I digress. Bebel Gilberto was wonderful. Two short sets, mostly bossa-based, and if I'm not mistaken with at least one Veloso-penned number. It was great of this international star to give her services free to help the ABC Trust recruit a few new well-heeled supporters. It is to be hoped that at least 90 people went home with a new appreciation of music not sung in English!